GERMANY, 1979, SUNDAY NIGHT. I’m somewhere outside Stuttgart; it’s a small winding road, Rudy’s Mercedes headlights show trees on either side, no houses, no cars.
I’m tired. Just take me to the hotel.
RUDY’S MYSTERY TOUR. Where are you taking me?”
“It’s a big surprise. You’re going to love it.”
Rudy is the manager of Mercedes’ spare parts operation – at least I think he is. I met him at their showroom in Slough, near London. I was shooting the introduction to a film about how Mercedes’ spares get to England. Rudy was there and said he’d meet me at Stuttgart airport on Sunday night.
Rudy is laughing. “I had them open up just for you. You will enjoy yourself.”
So what could it be?
“No, much better.”
“No, no, this something very special – unique – something absolutely wonderful.”
Unique? Pleasurable? Wonderful? I’ve got it – it’s a hot tub with beer and sausages. Bratwurst. Mmmm…
ALMOST THERE. “We turn a corner. Gates open automatically. Clickerty clack.
I look in disbelief. It’s the Mercedes’ Spare Parts Warehouse. All lit up with floodlights.
The doors are open. We drive right inside.
“Isn’t it wonderful. A Disneyland of spare parts. We opened tonight just for you! Come, I want to show you our automated order picking.”
Rudy is right. It IS the Magic Kingdom, chock full of yellow automated carts all going about their business. There are no tracks; they’re following invisible guide paths in the floor.
“It’s magic – just magic. We’re having fun aren’t we – come on, you can ride one.”
It’s Sunday night, well after 11 and we both are riding the order picking carts around the warehouse. Wheeee! They’re playing “Boogie Wonderland.”
RUDY’S LITTLE JOKE. MONDAY. I shoot an order coming in from London and the automated guided vehicles (AGVs) being programmed to “go fetch.” This warehouse is over a million square feet, about the size of six Costcos.
I shoot the AGVs; run out of film, go to the office, get a new magazine, run back to Rudy, who is minding my camera – my camera – it’s gone!
“Rudy, where is it?”
“I was talking to Heinrick, I put it down.”
“YOU PUT MY CAMERA ON AN AGV?”
Like scene in a slapstick comedy, we run through the maze of racking looking for the AGV. The little, yellow critters are everywhere but we can we find ours?
Surprise! Rudy finds it. He’s laughing – it was all a practical joke. He sent it off on purpose. Rudy’s funny prank. Not your average client but you can’t help liking him.
I shoot all day and at sunset, a postcard shot of the truck leaving for London.
We dine together. An MOS meal. Translation: mit out sausages.
I WANNA GO HOME. TUESDAY. Rudy wants me to film a nearby factory where the bulk spare parts are packed individually, ready for the automated warehouse. By lunchtime, I’m finished.
“If we leave now, I’ll be able to catch the plane home this afternoon.” No such luck.
You guessed it. Rudy has another surprise. We are off to Stuttgart to visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum. A quick pizza – MOS: another day mit out sausages.
PLEASE RUDY, NOT ANOTHER SURPRISE. WEDNESDAY. Rudy collects me at the hotel. We are on the autobahn going to the airport.
“We have time for another surprise.” Groan.
Rudy leaves the autobahn and drives through green fields, past some country houses. There’s one on the top of the hill. We drive up, get out and go inside. I smell Bratwurst.
“Stefan, I’d like you to meet my mother. Mutti has cooked four different kinds of sausages for you and your family. It’s my best surprise.”
It is too. Mmmm… delicious.
Clients come in all shapes and sizes. And then, there’s Rudy.